“Implicit learning” is defined as “ A term coined by A.S. Reber for learning that takes place largely independent of awareness of both the process of acquisition and the content of the knowledge so acquired. Material that has been learned in this fashion, often termed “procedural knowledge,” can be used to guide behavior, make decisions and solve problems, although that individual is typically unaware of the complex knowledge held that enables him or her to act in this fashion.
“Explicit Learning” is “Learning that takes place consciously and results in knowledge that is available to consciousness; learning of which one is aware.”
From the first reference above:
“Implicit acquisition systems have a long evolutionary history and can be found operating in virtually every species of even modest neurological complexity.” (p. 152)
“Our subjects are conscious of the fact that they have learned something. They are aware that cognitive change has taken place during the learning phase of the experiment, they know that they know something they did not know before. They have a “feeling of knowing.”
“The quick review of the literature included here strongly supports the notion of a hierarchically structured mind/brain with a foundational implicit acquisition and representation system that operates largely independently of consciousness, hovered over by an explicit cognizing system whose operations are intimately tied to consciousness.” (p. 151).
Shh Tract differs from Dr. Reber as follows:
“Implicit learning” is really the one and only mode of cognition. “Explicit learning” is merely either an understanding and putting into words of one’s own “tacit knowledge” or else an understanding of someone else’s proffered “knowledge” without integrating it into one’s own (tacit) view of the world.
The proof is that “explicit learning” simply cannot be intentionally or predictably integrated into one’s “cognitive unconscious”. No amount of effort will do it. The cognitive unconscious makes knowledge in completely unpredictable ways. That is its job.
No wonder tachistoscopists are frustrated in their efforts to insert specific content into the cognitive unconscious (p. 141, first reference above). The cognitive unconscious has a mind all its own. “Implicit learning” makes things part of your world. It gives you what you see when you “look out” at the world.
Obviously, “explicit learning” (which is learning by means of words) does make use of one’s existing “cognitive unconscious” (or per Shh Tract, one’s “conceptual structure”). But it doesn’t change that structure at all. No “cognition” occurs.
The main subject of the Lewicki, Czyzewska & Hill article (above) is expertise, and among their conclusions is that sometimes expertise requires "extended interaction (experience) with some specific areas of reality" including lengthy implicit learning involving acquisition of the "inferential encoding algorithms" ("non-conscious acquisition of complex encoding skills"). There is mention of a "ten-year rule" of thumb among researchers (a minimum of ten years of active experience to achieve true mastery in a particular area.
But they say, "this is not intended to imply that acquiring knowledge in a consciously controlled manner is unimportant in the development of expertise." (footnote, p. 162)
These authors seem ignore of one important way we acquire implicit learning and expertise--possibly because it would present hurdles to their empirical methods. Expertise can also be acquired through unconscious conversion of explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge.
One of the most interesting types of implicit learning is where explicit knowledge--or even specific memories--is allowed to be exposed to the "Shh" tract again and again and thus to build up the cognitive unconscious. One can "mindlessly" "run something around in his mind," many, many times, without trying to hold it in the form and meaning it had in its original acquisition. Over a prolonged period (perhaps even ten years!) one might acquire a new store of tacit knowledge side-by-side with the original explicit knowledge (just because the explicit knowledge has been converted to tacit knowledge, the original store of explicit knowledge is not destroyed).
Of course, the newly-acquired tacit knowledge would be in a new form which would require the person to try to figure out just what it is and what it means, and which might require different words to communicate it to others.
This is an important way of acquiring expertise. The expert's knowledge has become "real to him." It has become "a part of him". Rather than being mere "declarative knowledge" to be paraded out as a product of years of schooling, it is what he actually sees when he "looks out at the world."
The mind doesn't get "all the good" out of an experience the first time. It makes use of what it is ready for at the particular instant, and can learn a little more from the same memory each time it is "re-played." What it learns is unpredictable. But every time it gives one a little better grasp of the world.
One might surmise that the evolutionary function of humor was to make a person feel joy instead of fear when he experiences something that is totally foreign to his existing knowledge structure.
But I think this situation could only occur if the person had closed down his "implicit learning" system, because "implicit" (unconscious) learning automatically integrates new and different experiences, even if they're incongruous. That is its function.
Maybe Nature prepared us with a "sense of humor" to face this exact scenario where instead of keeping our mind open, we for whatever reason did keep our ideas fixed (like "encoding algorithms"!).
Is this system denied to lower forms of life? Why would it be? Of course, they don't have language and so "explicit learning" is denied them. But are they capable of shutting off their unconscious learning system, as humans are, and so hobbling themselves from seeing reality? Are they, like us, capable of keeping their knowledge structure from changing? If so, why wouldn't they too feel the sensation of "humor" (indistinguishable from other instances of joy) just as we do when having a totally incongruous experience? Just because they don't laugh, that isn't proof they don't feel joy!
Chinese sounds can be very amusing to the American ear, especially recordings that are made for children where the speaker is impersonating different literary characters. It is revealing that when listened to "unconsciously" these sounds are no longer amusing at all! They are merely more data to be integrated into the cognitive unconscious.
More About Learning Chinese
Probably the main stumbling block for Americans in learning spoken Chinese is the tone system. Most people probably find that, whereas the pin yin system is easy to learn, there is "no place" in our minds to put the tones.
What do they mean when they say that?
It is quite common for people to make such statements as "My mind just isn't cut out for math" (or physics, or languages, or etc.).
What that actually means is that they have not begun to grasp the particular subject implicitly. There is nothing like that in their "tacit knowledge" structure. It is "Greek" (or Chinese) to them.
In trying to learn the Chinese tones, they have used their tacit knowledge of English to help them remember the pin yin system. But there is nothing like the Chinese tones in the English language.
Thus the tones (not the handful of tones themselves, but which tone goes with which word) cannot be learned "explicitly". They MUST be learned "implicitly" (unconsciously).
In fact, an English speaker can easily do this, just as a small child in China learns the tones, by putting all his explicit knowledge out of his mind for the moment and listening with "new ears". Young children of either culture have an advantage because they have not yet either learned either the English or the pin yin writing system!
The pin yin system is not an aid to learning spoken Chinese. It is a hindrance. The problem is that when one listens to spoken Chinese, he sees the written (pin yin) word in his mind.
The trick to learning spoken Chinese is to stop oneself from recognizing anything about the spoken word. This includes the written word. The spoken word is not the written word. It is itself, and it includes its tone. Just say "Shh!" to keep the conscious mind from recognizing the individual word in any way.
(It is interesting that when one blocks his conscious mind from recognizing the spoken word, he also blocks it from "seeing" the written word in his mind. This is just more evidence that the "Shh Tract" is an all-encompassing learning tract).
In this manner of listening to the spoken word, one is always (falsely) quite certain that he is not going to remember anything! The cognitive unconscious learns from its own angles and at its own speed. It is mysterious and uncontrollable. It builds itself up, more or less gradually. But it can learn anything.
So the way people usually try to learn the tones is backwards. If one will first listen and learn the words, together with their tones, "implicitly" (unconsciously), the tones will become part of the "tacit knowledge" stored in the cognitive unconscious, and the conscious mind can then look and observe "at a glance" how the tone is made and the rules or patterns under which the tones are used in different circumstances. The trick is in (unconsciously) acquiring the tacit knowledge. That is the whole battle.
Some scientists claim that all implicit learning does is provide "algorithms" by means of which the conscious mind can "implicitly" acquire new learning. (See: Pavel Lewicki, Maria Czyzewska, and Thomas Hill; "Cognitive Mechanisms for Acquiring 'Experience': The Dissociation Between Conscious and Nonconscious Cognition," in Scientific Approaches to Consciousness (above), p. 164.
These scientists refer to the existing state of our tacit knowledge, whatever it may be, as constituting our "inferential encoding algorithms."
This is not right. Everything we know we learn via implicit learning. The idea of explicit cognition is just a misapprehension.
"Explicit learning" is a way of understanding supposed "knowledge' which another person claims to have. If "cognition" is one's personal knowledge of reality, "explicit learning" is not cognition. It is not a way to increase one's personal store of "tacit knowledge." Anyone who carefully watches his structure of "tacit knowledge" when "learning from someone else will clearly see that this is true.
Try to define a familiar word without reference to a dictionary. Where do you look? At your tacit knowledge of some aspect of the "outside world." This knowledge is contained in some kind of wordless structure (the so-called "cognitive unconscious," which in fact is available for conscious inspection at any time!).
Now go to the dictionary and look up the same word. Has the act of looking at this definition changed anything about the understanding of the world which is contained in your tacit knowledge structure? After grasping the "official" definition, you may decide to adjust how you use that particular word in trying to describe your tacit knowledge to someone else. But the tacit knowledge structure itself will not have changed in the slightest degree.
The "cognitive unconscious" is not unconscious. It is merely wordless ("tacit") and it is always subject to change, and must be reviewed constantly. It is due to this structure that we see a tree or a leaf instead of a green blotch. But we can also look inward and perceive exactly the same thing, not as a particular manifestation of a tree or a leaf, but as some kind of abstraction, a "conceptual structure" which holds everything we have ever learned about the "outside world." We can observe this structure inside our mind, and we can also observe the structure in the "outside" world which we perceive through the same structure. it is the same knowledge in both places.
This structure is not "learned encoding algorithms that impose preexisting categories or prototypes on encountered stimuli" (Lewicki, Czyzewska & Hill, above, p. 163). It is just knowledge. Tacit knowledge does not impose itself on the "outside world." It is always subject to unpredictable change by any given experience, contingent on the person keeping his mind open to "implicit learning." Of course, he doesn't have to do this, and if he doesn't, his mind will see things in the outside world in terms of his existing tacit knowledge structure, which will remain the same and not change. But if he keeps his mind "open," his tacit knowledge structure will actually change to accommodate the new experience.
If one closes his mind and thus makes his tacit knowledge structure impervious to change, he will always have to consciously fit any new experiences into his fixed "categories and prototypes." "Encoding algorithms" are the defining characteristic of a closed mind.
"A Study of Thinking"
I have the first edition. A Study of Thinking, Jerome S. Bruner, Jacqueline J. Goodnow, and George A. Austin;John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,1956.
This book looks very meaty and will take a lot of study. It is "still hailed as a major contribution to our understanding of the mind;", "Groundbreaking; "Pioneering".
From the first paragraph of Chapter 3, "The Process of Concept Attainment":
"The transition experience between "not having" (a concept) and "having it" seems to be without experiential content."
It is true that the transition experience is always unconscious, although the experience of activating the "Shh" Tract can be either conscious or unconscious. One can consciously and deliberately make the unconscious experience happen!
"It is an enigmatic process and often a sudden process". Something happens quickly and one thinks one has found something."
But "It is curiously difficult to recapture pre-conceptual innocence."
This is wrong. In fact, it is very easy to recapture pre-conceptual innocence! The mind has a special tract just to allow this! "Shh" Tract. It is not overly hard to learn to use this brain system! That is why it is there! If the brain could not recapture pre-conceptual innocence, it could never process the new and unheard of, which would defeat the brain's whole purpose.
Children and Declarative Knowledge
Dr. Reber notes that young children acquire huge amounts of information "relatively independently of conscious attempts to acquire it and without much in the way of conscious knowledge of what they have learned", sometimes much better than older children "who tend to engage in more explicit-type learning." However, it seems that older children do better on "the explicit task." Reber, Implicit Learning and Tacit Knowledge, 1003, pp. 94-97.
This is certainly in line with Shh Tract's claim that language is not necessary for cognition and can actually interfere with cognition. And that explicit learning (although "supported by conscious strategies for acquisition" (Ibid, p. 97) is not cognition at all. The basic fact is this: Explicit learning does not add to our procedural, or tacit, store of knowledge. It only adds to our "declarative knowledge." Declarative knowledge can be tentative knowledge gained by attempting to identify what is stored in our own cognitive unconscious, or it can be tentative knowledge borrowed from other people. But if "cognition" is our own personal knowing of "the outside world" (Shh Tract), explicit learning adds nothing to what is already in our cognitive unconscious..
American kindergartners readily learn Mandarin (See "Mastering Mandarin", San Francisco Chronicle, April 17, 2012). But it is almost impossible for adults to do so, probably because Mandarin has been rendered into English ("pin yin"). Adults just don't (or perhaps can't) listen.
Declarative Knowledge and Procedural Knowledge
Dr. Reber defines "declarative knowledge" as "knowledge about the world that can be represented as consciously known, factual knowledge." He distinguishes this from "procedural knowledge," defined as "knowledge about how to do something." "Unlike declarative knowledge, procedural knowledge "lies outside an individual's realm of consciousness and might include knowing how to speak a language or how to tie a knot." Reber, Dictionary of Psychology, Third Edition, p. 381.
"Declarative knowledge" is acquired through "explicit learning". "Procedural knowledge" is acquired through "implicit learning."
Science and the "Cognitive Unconscious"
It's very surprising that there is a scientific dispute as to whether the "cognitive unconscious" even exists, and that many scientists are preoccupied with trying to prove experimentally that it does exist.
About this controversy, see Arthur S. Reber,"Implicit Learning and Tacit Knowledge, An Essay on the Cognitive Unconscious," (188 pages), Oxford University Press (Clarendon Press), 1993.
The "cognitive unconscious" is not even unconscious. Perhaps it is thought to be unconscious because it doesn't come ready-equipped with words to describe its contents.
The truth is that the "cognitive unconscious" is the main component of "consciousness". We are always aware of this tacit body of knowledge and we spend most of our time trying to communicate what we 'see' in it. The very purpose of words is just to try to communicate the contents of the "cognitive unconscious". We ourselves try, often erroneously, to communicate this with words, and we have at our fingertips words from many thoughtful people of many past generations' attempts to describe their own cognitive unconsciousness.
In fact, we aren't really in the position of perceiving the "outside world" at all. The "cognitive unconscious" perceives the outside world. It has "a mind of its own". What we ourselves are conscious of is merely the "cognitive unconscious". We "see" the outside world through the prism of the "cognitive unconscious."
Arthur Reber and other advocates of the "cognitive unconscious" believe that this "unconscious" builds up its abstract knowledge completely unbeknownst to us. It is true that this building-up process is indeed unconscious and not subject to our control.
But we can induce it to build up. How? This is what Shh Tract is about.
Once we realize that what we are conscious of is not the "outside world" but only the (supposedly unconscious)"cognitive unconscious" (I call it the Conceptual Structure), we can clearly see that all we can do to help with our "perception of the outside world" is to get out of the way: to not get between the "cognitive unconscious" and the "outside world". We must develop the skill of just allowing the "cognitive unconscious" to do its job.
"Implicit learning" (learning by the "cognitive unconscious" can only take place when both implicit and explicit knowledge ("knowledge" in words) is suppressed and the "cognitive unconscious" can "see the outside world" completely anew, with "new eyes". The fact that we have the ability to momentarily suppress all our existing knowledge is what leads me to surmise that the "cognitive unconscious" is equipped with its own neural learning tract: "Shh Tract".
But what to make of a scientific dispute over the very existence of the Conceptual Structure?!!
Professor Reber is the author of a Dictionary of PsychologyHere are a few entries:
"Implicit Learning": A term coined by A.S. Reber for learning that takes place largely independent of awareness of both the process of acquisition and the content of the knowledge so acquired. Material that has been learned in this fashion, often termed "procedural knowledge", can be used to guide behavior, make decisions and solve problems, although the individual is tyically unaware of the complex knowledge held that enables him or her to act in this fashion.
"Explicit Learning": Learning that takes place consciously and results in knowledge that is available to consciousness; learning of which one is aware.
BOOK REVIEW: Arthur S. Reber, How to Differentiate Implicit and Explicit Modes of Acquisition (part 2)
Oh, I so love this article by Arthur S. Reber! ("How to Differentiate Implicit and Explicit Modes of Acquisition", in Scientific Approaches to Consciousness, Jonathan D. Cohen and Jonathan W. Schooler, eds., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997).
Listen to this, on differences between" implicit learning" and "explicit learning", or "tacit knowledge" and "explicit knowledge": "Patients with acquired dyslexia reveal virtually normal lexical knowledge of presented words provided they were presented at rates too rapid to be decoded consciously (Coslett, " H. B. ,1986, "Preservation of Lexical Access in Alexia Without Agraphia; Shallice , T. & Saffran, E., 1986, ""Lexical Processing in the Absence of Explicit Word Identification".)" Reber, P. 147).
"Alzheimer's patients performed normally on an implicit sequence learning task but poorly on tasks that required reflection and conscious control of cognition. (Nissen, M. J., & Bullemer, P., 1987, "Attentional Requirements of Learning: Evidence from Performance Measures"." Reber, P. 147. "Large individual differences were found on the explicit process with slow readers taking nearly three times as long as normal readers, but no differences were observed on the implicit task, where slow readers were indistinguishable from normal readers. Aaronson, D, & Scarborough, H. S. , 1977, "Performance Theories for Sentence Coding: Some Quantitative Models"." Reber, P. 148 AND ESPECIALLY!!:
"Two studies have found no significant correlations between performance on implicit learning task and IQ." Reber, A.S., Walkenfeld, F.F. & Hernstadt, R., 1991, " "Implicit and Explicit Learning: Individual Differences and IQ"; Knowlton, B. J. , Ramos, S. J., & Squire, L. R., 1992, "Intact Artificial Grammar Learning in Amnesia: Dissociation of Abstract Knowledge and Memory for Specific Instances"." Reber, P. 148.
All this stuff is really fascinating! But I don't think these empiricists are seeing what is right in front of their eyes: The truth is that "implicit learning" is the only true "cognition". "Explicit learning" is not cognition at all. (There is some kind of wordless structure that we all perceive in the back of our mind." I define "cognition" as CHANGES IN THIS STRUCTURE. "Explicit learning" is merely the ascertaining of knowledge which has been stored by "implicit" learning in the "back of the mind" ( that is in the " Conceptual Structure, "Cognitive Unconscious, " "Adaptive Unconscious," or whatever you want to call it.). This ascertaining can be by means of someone else (such as the author of a book) pointing it out to you; or it can be by means of your own personal observation of the structure.
"Explicit learning" is based on the structure But it does not change it.
BOOK REVIEW: Arthur S. Reber, How to Differentiate Implicit and Explicit Modes of Acquisition (part 1)
For an academic study that on a number of points closely tracks Shh Tract, see:
Arthur S. Reber, “How to Differentiate Implicit and Explicit Modes of Acquisition”, in Scientific Approaches to Consciousness, Jonathan Cohen and Jonathan Schooler, eds., Lawrence Eribaum Associates, 1997.
Some of these points, couched in a distinctive “scientific” language, are:
“These implicit systems, when operating in an acquisitive mode, yield a knowledge base that allows an individual to function in a variety of domains in which decisions can be made, problems can be solved, and choices arrived at without conscious recourse to mental content.” (p. 152)
“Implicit acquisition systems have a long evolutionary history and can be found operating in virtually every species of even modest neurological complexity.” (p. 152).
(I especially like this one:)
“Our subjects are conscious of the fact that they have learned something. They are aware that cognitive change has taken place during the learning phase of the experiment, they know that they know something they did not know before. They have a “feeling of knowing”.
“The quick review of the literature included here strongly supports the notion of a hierarchically structured mind/brain with a foundational implicit acquisition and representation system that operates largely independently of consciousness, hovered over by an explicit cognizing system whose operations are intimately tied to consciousness.” (p. 151)..
However, one of the several points where Professor Reber differs from Shh Tract is when he says that “The implicit-explicit distinction is not between two isolated cognitive modules but between two poles on a continuum.” (p. 145). (By “explicit cognition” he means conscious “learning” by means of words).
This is not true. Actually, implicit learning is the ONLY mode of cognition. “Explicit learning” is merely the achieving of an understanding of someone else’s proffered “knowledge” without actually integrating it into one’s own view of the world (The fact is that “explicit learning” simply cannot intentionally or predictably be integrated into the cognitive unconscious. No amount of effort will accomplish that. The cognitive unconscious makes knowledge in completely unpredictable ways. That is its job. No wonder the empiricists are frustrated in their efforts to insert specific content into the cognitive unconscious (p 141 et seq.). The cognitive conscious has a mind all its own. Obviously, “explicit learning” does make use of one’s existing “cognitive unconscious”” (*or per Shh Tract, one’s “conceptual structure”). Otherwise, we wouldn’t even be able to understand the proffered idea. But the cognitive unconscious has not changed at all. No “cognition” has occurred. Through “explicit learning” one can “learn” that there are 11 protons in the nucleus of an atom of sodium; something very useful to know; but if it comes right down to it you would have to say you “know” it only because you read it in a book. You may also “learn” from a book that there are ethereal beings called seraphim which have six wings. To see the effects of real cognition--what knowledge has really become “part of you” (a part of the structure “in the back of your mind”)--you have to ask yourself if you are truly certain of it--just you, yourself--as certain as you are that if you step off a curb into the asphalt street you will not fall hundreds of feet into an abyss (although of course even this “knowledge” can be deceptive when applied in the individual case! The knowledge itself is correct; The problem is that we often assume it is more widely applicable than it really is.). Implicit knowledge is by its nature not in words, although with some effort one can describe it and communicate it in words. Your mind has made it part of your world. It is what you see when you see the world. It is the fruit of an implicit cognitive faculty which enables creatures to adapt and survive. If you will practice the skill of shutting out everything you know (both “explicitly” and “implicitly”) while looking at the world around you, you will quickly observe that your understanding of what you see will somehow change and grow. This, and only this, is “cognition”. Human beings in the course of their history have gotten away from this skill, but it can be learned.
Professor Reber says:
“Subjects are not naturally introspectively aware of either the process or the products of implicit learning.” (p. 144). What in the world do we all do, all of us, when we look at something “in the back of our mind” in order to compare (wordlessly) what we REALLY know about the world to some new idea that has been suggested to us by someone else? When we put our fingers to our lips, get a faraway look and peer into the”back of our mind?” It’s not words or memories. It is some kind of structure. And it is certainly open to introspection. We look at it all the time.
If we couldn’t perceive its content, how could Nature expect us to act on our new and unexpected insights about the world? Or maybe Nature intended that we just act on them without thinking, as other animals probably do, and human beings have somehow gotten into the position of being able to actually identify the knowledge which has--without any effort on their part--suddenly been stored in their brain.
Series 2, Program 2, "Consciousness".
One of the participants described a seminal experiment as follows:
One group of subjects viewed a screen on which words were flashed
too quickly to be consciously understood. The words were similar to
"mean", "devious", or "nefarious".
Afterward, both that group of subjects and a separate group were given
neutral information about a certain person, and then asked to say what
they felt about that person. The group which had viewed the words
said that they had doubts about the person, that they felt the person
might be devious. The other group simply said they didn't have enough
information to opine much about him at all.
The following conclusions were drawn from this experiment:
The mind can learn from the meaning of words subconsciously viewed.
This learning is by the "fast" mind as opposed to the "slow" mind.
All I can say about this experiment is that I think these scientists are
definitely on the right track!